White House accelerating plan to clear out excess federal properties

The legislation sets up a commission of private and public sector leaders similar to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) that closed more than 350 installations between 1989 and 2005. 

Once properties are designated for sale, Congress would then take an up-or-down vote on whether to accept the board’s recommendations. Congress also has to approve creation of the board.

White House officials called the method "a proven approach to the process of dispensing with unused federal properties" although it's the first time the process has been applied to civilian properties. 

"The legislation provides a big opportunity to downsize the federal government's footprint," U.S. Controller Danny Werfel said during the call. 

Zients called the process to dispose of federal buildings a "culture of inertia" that can only be changed through the legislative process. 

Werfel and Zients said the administration also is making headway on its goal to save $3 billion by the end of 2012 by closing underutilized properties.

"We're on track to save that much," Zients said. 

A majority of the savings from the plan would go toward deficit reduction with the remainder used for investment improve efficiency in federal buildings to save more money. 

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, has been working with the administration for several months on a plan to decrease the inventory of mostly unused federal buildings. 

Denham, who worked on a similar initiative on the state level, called the administration's proposal a "good first step" and said he plans to introduce "legislation very soon that encompasses these priorities, increases transparency and reduces our federal footprint in order to save billions of taxpayer dollars.”

He first proposed a civilian BRAC commission in February while the president proposed a panel in his fiscal 2012 budget. In early April, Denham and the administration reached an agreement on his proposal to develop principles into bipartisan civilian BRAC commission legislation.

Denham has said that any plan to reduce the number of properties should provides a way to consolidate the footprint of federal real estate, house more federal employees in less overall space, reduce the reliance on costly leased space, sell or redevelop high-value assets that are underutilized or too valuable for housing federal employees and dispose of surplus property more quickly.

"I am glad that the Office of Management and Budget agrees with my goals for a civilian BRAC commission and I look forward to working with the administration to move a bill through Congress to save billions of taxpayer dollars,” he said. 

Denham has gotten broad support from his subcommittee in the past when requesting a complete list of all federal-controlled properties.

The federal government owns and operates more than 1.2 million buildings costing about $20 billion a year to operate, he said.